Tarrant County Ready With New West Nile Virus Plan

Plan for year round surveillance started last week

The Tarrant County health department calls its new West Nile Virus plan "aggressive" in watching and responding to the virus.

"It is significantly more aggressive in terms of surveillance and response," said Dr. Anita Kurian, Tarrant County Public Health chief epidemiologist.

Last year, 279 people in the county contracted the virus, with 11 fatalities.

Surveillance is already in progress three months before the official start of the mosquito and West Nile virus season.

Kurian said off-season trapping began last week in the county's unincorporated areas. No disease-causing mosquitoes were trapped, she said.

Kurian said she would be surprised if any such mosquitoes were found this early in the year, but that the testing is part of the department's new year-round effort.

From September until May, the department will use 20 traps in strategic locations to see if there is any early arrival of the virus. From May until September, 200 traps will be used.

"(The traps) will be placed in areas of historical record of disease activities so, 150 of these will be fixed location trucks (and) 50 of them will be moving location traps," Kurian said.

The fixed location traps are a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tarrant County said they will allow for better year-to-year data comparisons.

With the ability to compare data, health officials could be alerted to an outbreak or start to the season earlier. Data from years past cannot be compared because of number of traps and varying locations.

Kurian also said that Tarrant County Public Health would use mosquito trap samples to drive the department's response. Officials will not wait for human cases to react, because it could take three to four weeks before officials find out about a human case.

County commissioners court members unanimously put their support behind the plan.

"That way, we can have a more proactive response instead of waiting for the human infected (when it) might be a little bit too late," County Commissioner Andy Nguyen said.

The plan calls for two new staff members dedicated only to West Nile virus and vector work. Public health will also double the number of its spray trucks from two to four. There will also be an all-terrain vehicle capable of spraying.

The additions of staff and equipment will cost $262,932 in 2013 and $250,021 in 2014.

"We've come up with the best plan that we think is most appropriate," Kurian said.

The two new employees aren't expected to start until the middle of the year. The fixed trap locations will be set up by May 1 every year.

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